Archaeologists from Australia’s leading universities are urging a major rethink about the way archaeology education is funded in Australia’s higher education system.
Senior academics from 12 universities, including The University of Western Australia, met in Melbourne recognising that modern infrastructure requirements and the ongoing mining boom had created unprecedented demand for archaeologists.
Associate Professor Wendy Beck, from the University of New England, said that urban sprawl and industrial development had placed an increasing emphasis on the need to manage Australia’s rich cultural heritage and to consult with local communities.
Professor Beck is leading a two-year project (funded by a grant from the Carrick Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education) to develop national benchmarks for archaeology degrees.
“The professional services of archaeologists are widely used in these management processes, which are generally backed up by heritage legislation at the federal and state level,” Professor Beck said.
Dr Jane Balme, from the University of Western Australia and Chair of the Australian National Committee for Archaeology Teaching and Learning said research showed more than 75 per cent of Australian archaeology graduates were employed in the heritage management sector, either with private firms or government agencies.
Previous studies in Australia had shown that the major skills gaps among archaeology graduates were in areas that required specialised science-based facilities and resources.
Professor Iain Davidson, from the University of New England, said that while universities were struggling to meet the growing demand for well-trained graduates, archaeology teaching and learning was still funded mostly as a library-based research discipline.
“Australian archaeology graduates have traditionally been regarded among the best in the world. But we risk falling behind if the basic teaching infrastructure needs of archaeology in the 21st century are not being met,” Professor Davidson said.
“Practical fieldwork and laboratory requirements are vital for the delivery of the best education in this important field.”
The Melbourne meeting followed a comprehensive survey of university archaeology departments around the country.
“Essentially we asked what an Australian archaeology graduate should know and what sort of basic training they should be expected to receive,” said Catherine Clarke, who coordinated the survey.
Ms Clarke said there was a strong consensus that national benchmarks were needed to ensure professional standards in archaeology were being met and to provide employers and clients with a consistent level of confidence about the type of training graduates had received at university.
Similar projects have been undertaken overseas and educational benchmarks for archaeology degrees have been operating in the UK now for several years.
Dr Jane Balme (UWA Archaeology) 61 8 6488 3825